In a delightful story of expanding elephant families, E Keo, mother to Noel, stands at the centre of a pioneering breeding programme.

Last June, the Airavata Elephant Foundation introduced a new male elephant to their herd, adding an exciting dimension to the project.

But what results this union will yield is anyone’s guess, leaving even the foundation’s president, Chenda Clais, in suspense.

Breeding elephants isn’t a simple affair. It often takes weeks, sometimes even months of courtship, said Chenda, fresh from overseeing the foundation’s fifth Charity Gala.

The plot thickened when the newly introduced male elephant had to be separated from E Keo due to musth, a time when his mating desires surge, making him notably aggressive.

“It’s challenging when a male elephant courts a female,” Chenda explained. “He becomes extremely competitive and aggressive, seeking female elephants for mating. Even those who care for these majestic creatures cannot approach him then. So, he was moved and tended to separately, demanding vast energy and keen attention to safety”.

To guarantee successful breeding, stringent protocols are set, allowing only the mahouts near the mating elephants. This responsibility is carried out with the deepest respect and prudence.

Chenda underlined the significance of these efforts, pointing to the considerable expenses in rearing elephants and the pressing need for younger elephants, given Cambodia’s aging elephant population.

“Raising elephants is quite costly. Yet, our commitment is unwavering as Cambodia’s elephants are in decline, and many of the current ones are reaching their twilight years,” Chenda shared with The Post.

Chenda, founder of the Airavata Elephant Foundation which acquired its elephants in 2015, noted that an elephant eats around 300kg of food daily. The foundation’s four elephants need the full-time attention of up to eight mahouts.

In another heartening development, E Keo, a female elephant under the foundation’s care, gave birth to a calf on December 26, two years ago. This arrival was a beacon of hope for Cambodia’s conservationists and the Ministry of Environment.

“We named her Noel since she arrived one day after Christmas. E Keo carried her for about 22 months,” Chenda recalled.

Chenda detailed E Keo’s poignant journey to motherhood, adding that Noel was one of four elephants currently under their guardianship.

Chenda voiced her appreciation for the backing they’ve received from various quarters, from private benefactors to state departments.

She highlighted the foundation’s ongoing needs, such as sourcing young female elephants needed to support the local population and raising funds for ongoing conservation efforts.

Neth Pheaktra, during his tenure as secretary of state at the environment ministry, shed light on Cambodia’s elephants.

He mentioned that the Kingdom’s protected forests are home to between 400 and 600 wild elephants. In addition, about 100 elephants are domesticated, some of which are under the foundation’s care.

The majority of these majestic creatures find their homes in safeguarded regions of the Cardamom Mountains and eastern provinces of Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri.

Pheaktra underscored the crucial contribution of elephant conservation in promoting eco-tourism. This form of tourism, in turn, generates funds essential for the protection of Cambodia’s unique species and their environment.

However, 2020 presented grim reminders of the challenges faced in elephant conservation.

Two young elephants, unfortunately, did not survive that year. In Mondulkiri province, rangers stumbled upon a malnourished calf in Sakrith Forest, separated from its herd in the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary.

Despite the best efforts of WWF-Cambodia specialists and local experts, the calf, suffering from a severe umbilical issue, unfortunately died about ten days after being found.

In a saddening incident at Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav National Park, a one-year-old calf was found dead, likely due to a trap set by hunters and subsequent drowning, highlighting the challenges in protecting Cambodia’s dwindling elephant population.